Victoria records 90 new cases
Victoria's daily coronavirus case increase is in double-digits again, with 90 new infections recorded.
But six Victorians died on Tuesday.
Premier Daniel Andrews is expected to provide an update later on Wednesday.
It comes after a Greens MP returning from maternity leave was the deciding vote late on Tuesday night as Victoria's controversial state of emergency powers were extended for up to six months - half what the government was initially seeking.
A marathon session in the Victorian Upper House ended at 2am Wednesday morning with the contentious bill passing through 20 votes to 19.
Samantha Ratnam, of the Victorian Greens, gave the Andrews Government the crucial third crossbench vote to get the legislation passed after she arrived at Spring St with her one-month-old daughter Malala.
Initially planning to stay at home rather than attend parliament, she joined Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick in supporting the government's legislation in the Upper House after it backed down on its bid to extend the powers by 12 months.
The government faced intense backlash over its original proposal, which would have given Premier Daniel Andrew and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton the ongoing power to impose restrictions, including to wear masks or to stay at home, without parliament's approval until September 2021.
But the crossbench trio rallied behind a shorter extension of six months. The new bill also included clarification on the reporting of public health advice and of the powers of the Chief Health Officer.
The State Opposition were unsuccessful in their bid to have the State of Emergency powers extended month to month
It will now be sent to the Legislative Assembly where it is expected to sail through because of the Andrews Government's large majority.
Q AND A
What is the state of emergency?
Under a State of Emergency, authorised officers, at the direction of the Chief Health Officer, can act to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health by detaining people, restricting movement, preventing entry to premises, or providing any other direction an AO considers reasonable to protect public health. A state of emergency is declared under Victoria's Public Health and Wellbeing Act and can run no longer than six months. The Andrews Government's legislation extends this rule so that it can run no longer than 12 months, pushing the expiry into March next year.
What power does it give and who to?
The Chief Health Officer is given extraordinary powers to do whatever is necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk to the health of Victorians.
This includes the power to require masks, enforce self-isolation orders, limit public gathering sizes and put different stages of restrictions into different areas.
Why is this extension being done?
Without the state of emergency the Chief Health Officer would be unable to force many of the restrictions that have been introduced to combat COVID-19. It was due to expire in mid September and could not be extended without a change to laws. Daniel Andrews wanted to extend the current six month limit to 18 months, meaning the government would have the option to continue the current powers for another year. The government still needs to keep declaring the State of Emergency in four week blocks.
What were the concerns?
Those opposed to the proposal, including the opposition and some upper house crossbenchers, have objected about the length of time being sought by the government to continue extending the state of emergency. They also believe there was not enough oversight over the government and the way it wielded these powers. MPs opposing the laws wanted to include regulations that force public health officials and ministers to report to parliament more regularly and before each four-week extension. The government was reluctant to do this over fears it would put too much political control over the independent powers of the Chief Health Officer.
What was the result?
The Andrews Government needed three crossbench MPs to vote with them for the Bill and this was done on Tuesday night by Fiona Patten, Andy Meddick and Samantha Ratnam after a compromise was made reached. The legislation that passed the Upper House changed the six-month limit to 12 months, half the extension initially proposed, and clarified the definition of "serious risk to public health" so that the Chief Health Officer could still make directions when COVID-19 cases were low in the community. It also included a requirement that public health advice about the State of Emergency be tabled in parliament every month to ensure accountability.
How did the votes fall?
All Upper House Labor MPs voted to pass the Bill with Fiona Patten, Andy Meddick and Samantha Ratnam making a majority of 20. The Liberal Nationals and remaining crossbench MPs voted against. It now moves to the Lower House where it is then set to sail through and become law.
What were the alternatives?
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten wanted a deal that extended the State of Emergency limit by six months but also created an oversight committee that the Chief Health Officer and other officials would need to consult before each four-week block. The State Opposition put forward their own amendments that would have extended the powers month-to-month and force the government to come back to parliament more often.
When have we had a State of Emergency previously?
COVID-19 marks the first time the emergency powers have been activated under the new Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008.
What happens now?
The Bill will go to a vote in the Lower House which is controlled by the Andrews Government in a large majority. It is expected to pass through easily.
HEALTH EXPERTS CALL FOR LOCKDOWN TO END
Senior Melbourne medicos have slammed Premier Daniel Andrews' harsh coronavirus lockdown as "heavy-handed and unjustifiable".
About 50 medical experts have called for the state of emergency to end, and the government to consult with doctors in developing future COVID-19 policies.
In an open letter to the Premier, the doctors said Victoria's second lockdown had "caused unprecedented negative economic and social outcomes … which in themselves are having negative health outcomes".
The stage four lockdown had caused mental health problems and contributed to domestic violence, they said.
"Job losses, home schooling, the isolation of the elderly and single people and the restriction on the number of people who may attend funerals are but a few examples of how the government's current response is harming the health of the general population," the letter noted.
"In short, the medical, psychological and social costs of the lockdown are disproportionately enormous compared to the limited good being done by current policies, and are relevant factors to be taken into account by any responsible government."
The letter - signed by surgeons, psychiatrists, oncologists, anaesthetists, obstetricians, gynaecologists, and GPs - stated the government's current coronavirus policy was "ill-focused, heavy-handed and unjustifiable, as a proportionate response to the risks posed by COVID-19 to the public's health".
The letter's lead author, urologist Geoff Wells, said contrary to the Premier's mantra, therisk of dying from COVID-19 was low for people under 60.
"It's about the same toxicity as the flu," Mr Wells said.
People were more prone to dying from untreated heart disease or cancer, he said.
He added it was likely many of those in nursing homes whose deaths had been linked to COVID-19 had died of other causes, such as dementia.
"It's difficult to ascertain what the cause of death really is in these patients - it's (COVID-19) probably been over-estimated," Mr Wells said. "We think that there's a better, more holistic approach to looking after people than having a severe, extended lockdown."
The doctors' letter recommends the state of emergency not be continued past September 13 and a bipartisan parliamentary group select a panel of non-politically aligned health experts to provide advice.
A Victorian government spokeswoman said: "Every decision we've made since the beginning of this pandemic is based on advice from the health experts and we'll continue to work with them to keep Victorians safe and slow the spread of this deadly virus."
STAYING ACTIVE IN LOCKDOWN
With gyms closed and group personal training sessions put on hold, the Victorian government is calling on people to find innovative ways to exercise during lockdown.
The government's new campaign, Get Active Victoria, was created to encourage Victorians to get moving at home after it was found 80 per cent of children and more than 50 per cent of adults were not doing the recommended amount of physical activity.
The new initiative offers Victorians an online platform with free workout videos, challenges and ideas to get moving at home.
Community Sport Minister Ros Spence said being active, especially during lockdown, was important for physical and mental wellbeing.
"Get Active Victoria makes it easy to be active around home with great ideas to motivate us all to move more and get our 30 minutes of exercise each day," Mr Spence said.
"This is an incredibly tough time for all Victorians, but we know getting active is so important to our physical and mental health."
AFLW player Daisy Pearce and Australian cricket captain Meg Lanning have contributed to the online platform by creating challenges for people of all ages.
"When you're active the benefits stretch way beyond physical fitness," Pearce said. "It's a really challenging time for Victorians at the moment and I encourage everyone to get involved in this great initiative."
The workouts, which range from 10 to 30 minutes, give participants the option to choose to focus on strength, cardio and flexibility.
Participants can also connect and compete with others by tracking their progress and forming fitness teams online.
Originally published as Vic state of emergency powers extended for up to six months